A HYBRID NOTEBOOK OF POETICS AND PORNOGRAPHIES

Pornography Disclaimer

This is a an imaginary diary of facts, confessions, or messages. This is a notebook of working but broken ideas, lines, images, notes on books I'm reading, writers I admire, and brief fantasies of language. Here unfiltered  all mannerings pseudo-private, publicized, ur-. Here I am art and unrevealed: poetic, political and pop. These are my moonlit rough beginnings and should not be taken literally, directly, truthfully, reliably, and none of it is legally binding. These lies are all choreographed, but only haphazardly. Beware.

18.8.08

THE STOLEN LIPSTICK

There's something reminiscent of James L. White's The Salt Ecstasies in Laura Jensen's Memory. Something so confessional and vulnerable, as if the poems can barely be spoken aloud. They have a private spell, one that memory casts, with its difficult but necessary moonlit weights and departures. Here's the last two stanzas of White's "Lying in Sadness":

"It's dark.
You exhale a fist of memory.
I love you like weathering wood
in a room of empty pianos.

When you return to something you love,
it's already beyond repair.
You wear it broken."

It's this sense of impossible return, the struggle of similes to find the right image to say the right feeling, and the nostalgia, the homesickness, that make me feel Jensen and White are related. I can't get one out of the other, even though White's book is filled with a lover's elegies and Jensen's is written to her self as a woman alone.

I haven't read her before. Oh I've listened to the myths, heard the stories of some crazy lady in a muumuu wandering AWP, been to the blog that is something of a bird's picking of lines, a nesting in pieces, straws, ribbons, facts. I've touched Bad Boats, and almost bought one when I was an undergrad, when the book was still in bookstores, but I hadn't the good sense to steal it.

Today I took Carnegie Mellon's new edition of Memory out to the beach, and though I was struck by the rooted feminism of the book, which Kevin Prufer points out in the foreword, I was more struck by how it results in witchy announcements from the kitchen, from the single woman in the world, from the girl-child. In fact, it's one of the quieter things I love about the book: Jensen's uncanny ability to return us to the woodlands, half-dressed. The woman alone, I think, is rare in books. I didn't even know I craved it until I read her. Poems like "West Window" ("It is all here in a cluttered cache / my luck, my dreams, and privacy.") or "Last Saturday of the Year" which ends with a description of a chair: 

"I stop for coffee. 
The chair seat is beautiful. It is round
with a pattern of water lilies, cattails,
flags, pale brown on a brown ground." 

You'd never know, with such adoration and careful attention to the beauty of the chair seat, that the same poet wrote these lines just a stanza before:


"And it is noon. A cock crows.
Christ.
It is like a thin wolf crying."

Jensen is tonally masterful, and the ease with which she sees, with which her poetry moves from the adoration of a thing to its almost terror-full description, for me, is bewitching. She is the mother we fear. I say what I mean. Her poem "Lipstick", for example, ends in the terror of abstraction and recognition:


"Of me there were single hairs, brown with damp.
I was looking up. In the white air by me
there was printed an emblem in a black square,
a signature. I was what was there."

 . . . . . . . .

I'm sure I should say more, but the waves are so imaginary I have to touch them, I have to hurl my half-nude body at their cool wall. Then, I'll walk out of the green foam like some new kind of wet discovery. I'll have to peel the dying seaweed from my calves. My skin will be stinging in all this light, cathedrals of salt and empty applause.
. . . . . . . . 

Of course my favorite poems are always mythic entertainments and fairy tales, poems for children. My favorites get their children baked into pies and eaten. My favorites get lost and thrown into prison. My favorites are orphaned:


PACTHOULI

If every man were a clove and ginger
man, all smiles while the storm shook the glass,
if every cookie shaped like a horse
could tempt snow into cedars and paths,
if the candlelight looked down on 
a real person made of flour and spice,
there he would be, all plaid and patchouli,
striking her harmless as gratitude,
harmless as a little chipping bird
at heart, that when he comes close, must fly.

She made her saints of bone, each multiple
and dinosaurian, all those fragments
enormous in possibility. The hands
of the scholar fell together in sleep,
spooned soup by daylight, lived and breathed
to die. The moon paused when she looked
its way, a mask on the sky. Light is not
a disguise for darkness, not yet, not
in her mind, not this day, in her present,
while out of a candle breathes his scent.

It is a waste of time, following men,
but what else can you do, if you do not
know the way to trap one? She followed him
out to the snow in her argyles, in that 
town that had winter, knowing she was wrong.
But what is a little light in the window?
What is a circle of flour, little mounds
of soda and salt, recipes like prayers 
but the old pursuit? He's the gingerbreadman.
You cannot catch him.
. . . . . . . .

Friends and Strangers, steal it if you can!

. . . . . . . . .

17.8.08

STOLEN REVELER

. . . . . . . . . .

I finally have summer, which is more a feeling than a season. More morning sunlight without any ache, more hummingbird sewing the air, more eucalyptus hiding its bones in green tea leaves and yellow wood curls, the fringes embroidered by golden needles, more spiderweb and gleam, more crashing in the distance that isn't death, how softness arrives, more absence isn't. Blue.

I took Donald Revell's latest book, A Thief of Strings, out to the beach, not really sure that I'd read it. I loved the title and I love his third collection, New Dark Ages, which is mostly evenly written narratives and strict stanzas. Strings is an Alice James book, three sections, 68 pages. Lyrics. Visions. I read the book a section at a time, getting down on my knees to blow the Pacific, bodysurfing salt, his lightning and dark glare. Dug my feet in the sand and read some more. "The sky was very near" writes Revell, and I'm with him. Color is a guitar string. Sunset is the killing Adagio of our time. Revell, I think, is staring into the star of dew, and seeing 

"A prism that is
Cool as a leaf, cool
And vaporous as grass
When grass goes home."

. . . . . . . .


















I'm really surprised by how much these poems stay with me. I love their deep but playful contemplations. I like the lines I don't understand, even more when they're paired with lines I do: 

"I want to go to the Garden of Eden to die. 
Happiness and Despair are of one mind. 
And the Devil is another evergreen burr-marigold gentleman."

I'm reminded in his work of Yeats' preoccupation with symbolism and myth. It's an oddly religious book, without being religious. Revell is at the core of something. The light transparent skeletons of leaves. White, rare. The soul of green, that is holy. "What is a good place" he asks, "to break down to die / To ask such a question / Is one heaven" In some ways Revell is interested in origins and human feeling. What drives us to experiences like love or spirit:


TO THE JEWS

I am the grass I dreamed I was.
Atalanta,
From inside a drop of dew
Comes the speed to outspeed you.
I have seen it.
Imagine something like a cloud, but like diamonds too.

The human eye began as grass.
In the first mornings, 
Water raced out of the air
Becoming Soul, who is the speed of things.
I lay my head onto the ground.
Is my dog a god because he kills a rabbit?

I lay my head beside the broken animal.
Our eyes meet. The world belongs to him.

. . . . . . . .
















. . . . . . . .

One of my favorite poems reminds me of the nature of seasons, that depart with part of us forever. "It will be a glorious spectacle" he writes in the title poem, 

"and I will be the only one there to enjoy it. No stems, no roots anymore, a glorious spectacle, and the meadows so many mirrors signaling with bright lights frantically. It has never been done." 

Beauty and death are never far apart, inside one another, twin.  My happiest poem in the book takes a religious holiday of a brutal death as its title and boyishly writes it. This is the entertainment of the dreaming self. We dream for ourselves our own dangerous, but good beginning:


GOOD FRIDAY

The clown is hurt between two trees.
His circus went far away, and they are happy there
With many animals, living by the sea.

Here, the low bushes are like little pigs,
And the flowers fierce, with great teeth in them.
I see no animals in the sky, but my mother does.

I see lights under the ground at night.
I hear them digging sometimes, and I know
One morning very early when the house is sleeping

Creatures no one has ever seen here
Will come up through the floors.
Their faces will be fires. Their fur will smell of earth

And of secret white things, buried a long time. 
If I go with them, I will never die.

. . . . . . . .

Friends and Strangers, steal it if you can!

. . . . . . . . 
My photo
I've got one foot in the grave and the other's in my mouth.

Poetry Disclaimer

My work has been awarded the Katherine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets, a Swarthout Award, and has twice been nominated and shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize. My first book, A Book Called Rats, was selected for the Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry (Eastern Washington University Press 2007). I'm curating editor for the online journal of poetry: PISTOLA and my poems and reviews most recently appear in Massachusetts Review, Beloit, Ploughshares and RAIN TAXI. I currently teach writing and literature at Santa Monica College in southern California.